Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 11, 2014

#TAM2014, Day 1, Morning

Filed under: general science,skepticism — Stuart Robbins @ 11:58 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Introduction

Well, last year I didn’t get past day 1. I thought I would. Yeah … didn’t. So, I thought that this year, I would just try to live-blog this where “live” is me writing, not posting. This will also help keep me awake because of the massive sleep deprivation that usually accompanies TAM. So, this will be a bit more stream-of-what-happened than last time.

Waking Up, First Things

I did not get a meal ticket this year, so I got up between 7:30 and 8:20 (yes, it can take awhile to get up, my pillow has a large gravitational field), and I had a truffle for breakfast. I headed down to the main hall and sat down at the fifth table on the right side in a seat saved for me by THE Karl Mamer and “Nigel St. Whitehall.” We talked very briefly, they read the newspaper, and I worked on proofing a paper that took a year to get accepted and they give me 48 hours to tell them if their typesetting is accurate.

Introductory Remarks, George Hrab

George Hrab did the introduction again this year, and it was a pretty humorous video that included cameos by the Novellum and others. All about Randi exposing The Truth.

The only problem with it was that it exposed the A/V issues bright and early on Day 1, yet again. In this case, the video kept stuttering and pausing, in some cases for a second every-other-second. Fairly pathetic. Allow me to explain why this is not a minor quibble for me: this is a known thing, that A/V at TAM has issues. It is in Las Vegas, at a major hotel/casino. Smaller hotels, smaller conferences, lower budget conferences, and higher budget conferences, all that I’ve been to, don’t have A/V issues.

Okay, I will try not to rant anymore. Here were some of the more humorous quotes by George:

“There are as many answers in Answers in Genesis than history on the History Channel.”

Dr. Oz testifying at Congress: “it was so good to see an advocate of raw food, get grilled.”

Regarding the re-doing of Cosmos: “Originally it was going to be subtitled, ‘Let’s piss off some fundamentalists.'”

Introductory Remarks, DJ Grothe

1038 attendees, 23 countries represented, including United Arab Emirates, large contingent from Australia, India, Japan, Norway, Russia, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. (I didn’t get all of countries down.

There were many scholarships this year. Brian Walker funded 20 educators to come to TAM. Sara Mayhew also raised funds for many people to attend. 26 people were funded by JREF forum members.

Perhaps most interestingly, for the first time ever, we get free wi-if in the TAM meeting room (I just switched over to it). Yay!

Oh, and lots of sponsors, etc. etc.

Introductory Remarks, Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer spoke next, probably because his organization was the primary sponsor of TAM.

Introductory Remarks, Randi

Randi was introduced at 9:25, and started by parking his cane and telling it to “stay.”

Randi announced that Massimo Palidoro (sure I messed that up) is writing a book about Randi. And that we are supposed to try to find him, say hi, and offer all information we have about Randi.

Based on a show of hands, it appeared from where I was sitting that well over half of the attendees saw a showing of a documentary that had been made of Randi, “An Honest Liar.”

Randi was getting fairly sentimental about a review of the history of TAM and all of us coming, and he said the following: “I want to thank you from the very bottom of my heart, as if there’s a place down there that stores these things …” He got to the sentimental part after a few minutes and left the stage to a half-standing ovation. I almost wonder if sometimes the jokes are a coping mechanism.

Panel: Can Rationality Be Taught

This panel had: Daniel Dennett, Julia Galef, Barbara Dresher, and Scott Lilienfeld. It started at 9:36, and they went to questions at 10:25 and ended at 10:31.

Based on opening remarks by most of the panel, “thinking is hard” (as Scott put it). Critical thinking / rationality can be taught to some extent, but not all the way. The example that Scott used was brilliant Nobel Prize winners who are at the top of their field, but then believe in the lamest pseudoscience in other fields (my words, not his).

- A point made by Barbara was that intelligence is definitely not equal to rationality or critical thinking. FYI, today I wore my, “Critical Thinking: it’s not just for smart people” t-shirt.

- People get invested in their views, particularly scientists and philosophers (and, I would add, pseudoscientists), and it was argued that that can be a good thing.

- “When we debunk these beliefs, we assume that everyone’s going to be as rational as we are, but that’s not always the case.”

- On backfiring, Daniel was talking about a conference he went to where there was a debate, and afterwards MORE people believed in the pseudoscience. He asked people why, and the response was: “If you smart people work this hard to disprove it, there must be something to it!”

- More on the backlash point, Scott raised the issue that while we can do debunking, and that it can be important, we also have to be careful to emphasize RIGHT information, rather than just focusing on WRONG information.

- Another point raised, I think by Julia, was that we almost inoculate ourselves from realizing that some of our beliefs/thoughts are wrong because it’s SOOOOO obvious that homeopathy and astrology don’t work, but that OUR beliefs look nothing like those, so … .

That was an interesting point for me, something I hadn’t really thought of, and is why I try to be generally open to new ideas. This is why critical thinking is so important. It’s not what you think, it’s how you think about it, how you reach that conclusion. That’s also what separates science from dogma.

Wrap-up: Not entirely sure how much I got out of this panel. It could be my aversion to philosophy or that the panel would have been better for me 6 years ago, when I was just starting to self-identify as a skeptic and didn’t know as much about skepticism stuff. This hour-long panel was followed by a 15-minute coffee break.

Talk: Fifty Shades of Gray Matter: Healthy Skepticism & the Illuminated Brain

This talk was given by Sally Satel. It started at 10:50, ended 11:16.

A/V issues continues this talk, where for some reason the tech people think that we actually want to see the speaker standing there talking most of the time, instead of seeing the slides that the speaker prepared to show to talk with. Sigh.

Anyway, I thought the talk topic was interesting, even though I was familiar with most of it.

- “When we focus only on the brain, we are in neurocentrism.” (or something to that effect)

20140711-110537-39937858.jpg

- The military implemented Operation Golden Flow, which was an attempt to mitigate heroin addiction when soldiers were coming back from Vietnam. It required a urine sample. Oye.

- “No one who is obese chooses to be fat [or maybe she said wants to be fat], but it’s a build up of incremental [feel-good] moments.”

Wrap-up: Overall, I thought this talk was interesting, but I don’t think it had much to do with skepticism. If this were a general science conference, sure! The only real connection was skepticism about whether the brain is the level at which intervention should be, or if it’s more psychological type interventions. I think.

Talk: Uses and Abuses of Brain Imaging: A Skeptic’s Guide

This talk was given by Scott Lilienfeld. It started at 11:17, ended at 11:50.

20140711-112258-40978109.jpg

- Interesting point about The Winner’s Curse, where in fMRI scans, especially with small sample sizes, there is a lot of noise in the imaging technique. To the point that they got a positive signal of brain activity from a dead salmon.

I found this one particularly interesting because it’s the EXACT SAME THING that I see in a lot of astronomy-based pseudoscience. The problem is people simply do not understand the inherent limits of their data. They thi that it’s a pixel, it has a certain value, that value is, well, certain, therefore (insert interpretation). But it’s just image noise.

- He went into issues with reverse inference, something I hadn’t heard of before. But, it sounded basically like the correlation = causation fallacy. Application to fMRI-based lie detectors. Or that you “literally love” your iPhone.

Wrap-up: I thought this was also interesting, and a bit more skeptical-oriented.

Keynote Talk: a History of Skepticism as Detailed in the Pages of Scientific American

This was given by Marriette di Christina. It would have started at 11:52, but due to more technical A/V issues, it was delayed until 11:58. I’ll refer back to my rant at the start of this post: for everything that the JREF pays for for this conference, WTF is wrong with these guys!?!?

I actually did not stay for this keynote, but I left early so I could get a quick lunch and finish up some work and nap before the 2:00 panel.

Podcast Episode 115: The Electric Universe, Part 1, with Dr. Tom Bridgman


Overview of the
Electric Universe! Been
A long time coming.

Happy TAM for all those who are here in Vegas, and attending TAM. As my own kick-off, since (for those who don’t know) today’s the first official day of stuff, we have Episode 115 of the podcast, the Electric Universe, Part 1. Part 2 will be out later this month where we’ll get more into the electric sun ideas, and why they fail. In other words, while this episode is an overview of the concept, and a lot of the history, the next episode is going to get more to specific examples of predictions and how the data fail to support them.

And, that’s about it. I’m writing this a day ahead of time, sitting in the Las Vegas airport for an hour.5 waiting for the airport shuttle so I don’t have to pay for a taxi. And I got 3 hours of sleep last night. So …

Oh, and the interview, for those who don’t read the title of the blog post, is with Dr. Tom Bridgman of the “Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy” blog.

July 4, 2014

Podcast Episode 114: Ethics in Science, with Special Guest Interview, Dr. Jeffrey Robbins


Ethics in science
Are not there just for show. They
Need to be followed.

This was very much a spur-of-the-news-cycle episode after it was revealed that Facebook deliberately tried to change peoples’ emotions without telling them; and so, I decided it’s time to do an Ethics in Science episode.

Yup, that’s what this is, boring ol’ ethics. But, they are important. They guide what we can (should) and can’t (or shouldn’t) do in science. How we operate. What research we can do. And why scientists in general are considered to be more trustworthy than people in many other professions.

This episode focuses on ethics in science in general, and I have brought my dad in to discuss ethics at institutions, particularly with respect to human tests. I then bring it back to focus on the ethics of scientists versus those of pseudoscientists, or the purveyors of pseudoscience.

In other news … TAM!!!! Anyone going? Wanna meetup? Let me know. And, I have the 8:40AM slot for the Sunday Morning Paper Presentations, where I’ll be talking more about the Cydonia analysis, but with the twist of focusing on lessons in general for skeptics.

June 23, 2014

Podcast Episode 113: The Blue-Haze Limb of Mars


While the color of
Mars is red, some photos show
Blue on the limb. Why?

While I’ve already addressed the True Color of Mars (episode 74), one remaining – and unmentioned – twist is the blue haze limb that is sometimes visible as the upper atmosphere in color images taken from Earth orbit; this episode addresses those. And, it’s a completely different phenomenon than just a crappy understanding of image analysis. Real science ensues!!

Feedback makes up over half of this episode. I talk about Episodes 112 (why Russell Humphreys thinks that magnetic fields should decay to begin with and how he made his prediction), 109 (a follow-up interview of Marshall Masters from just a few days ago), and 111 (general feedback and criticisms of the Cydonia movie).

Finally, TAM is less than 2.5 weeks away, and I’d love to meet my adoring fans you folks who tolerate listening to me every now-and-then. Please let me know if you’re going AND interested in meeting up. Otherwise, I may have to spend all my time with a Hershey chocolate -lover, and we don’t want that now, do we?

And über-finally, I got a special e-mail while I was recording this episode. Listen to it all the way through to hear it. :)

Oh, and super-düper-finally, about the release schedule: Some of you may have noticed has been a bit off lately. The excuses are the usual, but ostensibly, the podcast is “supposed” to come out on the 1st, 11th, and 21st of the month. And that’s how I date them in the RSS feed. But, in the intro, I state that this is an episode for a certain third of the month, so that’s been the justification in my head for being able to get it out a little late. And looking at my upcoming schedule, I think that you can probably expect more of the same at least until September. They should be on or about the 1st, 11th, and 21st, but won’t necessarily be exactly on those dates.

June 14, 2014

Podcast Episode 112: Is Mercury’s Magnetic Field Decaying? Does that Prove Recent Creation?


Magnetic field of
Mercury: Has it decreased
Or just stayed the same?

For this episode, we return to an old stalwart of the blog: Young-Earth creationism, and I examine the relatively recent claim that Mercury’s magnetic field is decaying, therefore God.

It’s a bit of a nuanced topic, since, to understand it, we have to get into magnetic fields and how you measure them around planets. Hopefully my squishy water balloon analogies make sense.

It’s a bit of a shorter episode, three days late, but I’ve been pretty busy catching up with work that I let slide while I was working on the Cydonia movie.

Oh, and the logical fallacies in the episode are: Cherry picking, and quote-mining.

June 2, 2014

Request for Questions: Electric Universe


In what promises to be as epic – or even more-so – than when the Flintsones met the Jetsons or if the Love Boat ever went to Fantasy Island, Exposing PseudoAstronomy will be meeting up with Crank Astronomy / Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy for a future episode or possibly two, or possibly more down the road.

I will be interviewing Tom Bridgman in a few weeks for at least one episode to be released in July. His area of expertise is the bane of my existence – electricity and magnetism – and he has talked a lot about the electric universe (or “EU”) idea on his blog before. I’ve gotten a lot of requests from listeners and readers to talk about this, but there’s no way I can do it justice.

I think Tom can.

We’re going to talk briefly about the history of EU and then probably about the “electric sun” phenomenon, but he and I want to open this up to any questions that you, the readers/listeners, may have for me to ask or topics for him to talk about. IF there are a lot, perhaps we’ll go longer and split into multiple episodes.

Please use the Comments here to put down topics/questions for discussion.

May 31, 2014

Announcing Vodcast 1 and Podcast 111: The Cydonia Region of Mars


Anomalies do
Abound, but, are they really
That rare, unus’al?

Welp, this is it! My first new attempt to create a video that I’m reasonably proud of and shows things the way I’d like them to be shown. On YouTube: You can click this link. Or, there’s a link to the 720p version here. And, of course, the link to the shownotes for the podcast version.

The differences are: On YouTube, you can view up to 1080p (“Hi-Def”), while the version released to the podcast feed is 720p, fewer pixels. The podcast (audio, episode 111) itself is an audio extension of the movie, explaining some of the math (or “maths” for peeps “across the pond”) in more detail and discussing one or two deleted scenes — additional bits that weren’t central to the story so didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie.

As I say at the end, I really do want feedback on this. If negative, then make it constructive. If you’re a fan of Richard Hoagland’s work, and you disagree with the movie, then let me know WHY, not just that you disagree because I’m wrong. That gets us no where and is useless.

And, if you like the movie, then make sure to share it around. Delusions of grandeur don’t manifest on their own, gosh darnit!

May 22, 2014

Podcast Episode 110: Solar System Mysteries “Solved” by PseudoScience, Part 2 – The Pioneer Anomaly


Pioneers: Little
Spacecraft that could. But, reveal
New physics, maybe?

The long put-off episode on the Pioneer Anomaly (you’re welcome, Graham). This is a normal-length half-hour episode, hopefully a complete telling of the story, hopefully understandable. There are a lot of links in the shownotes, so head over there if you get lost.

There’s also a Q&A segment, a question from the many in my archive.

There are also three announcements, two requiring links. First up is the trailer for my Cydonia region of Mars video, and second is that this Saturday I will be interviewed on ATS Live (I’ll try to record it and post if possible). I don’t know all of what we’ll talk about, but topic-wise we will likely hit on Bob Lazar and John Lear … if you’re into UFOlogy, you almost certainly know those names.

May 14, 2014

New Project Announcement: The Cydonia Region of Mars


Today, I am releasing the trailer for a project I have been working on for the last month. I’ve said for a long time I want to make more movies/animations related to the topics I discuss on this blog and podcast, and this is the first entry into that.

The movie itself will be about 15 minutes long, and I have been working with over a dozen volunteers who’ve been offering feedback to put this out come the end of the month. With a near-final version of the movie (just tweaks at this point), it’s a “for-sure” that I can get it out on May 31, so I’m putting up the trailer now.

Thanks to Steve Gibb for the quite dramatic music for the trailer. We wanted to have fun with the trailer, while the actual movie will be much more serious.

May 12, 2014

Podcast Episode 109: The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 9 – Marshall Masters


Conspiracy shrouds
Planet X in mystery.
Perpetual DDDDOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM.

In this episode, we get Marshall Masters’ version of Planet X. There’s honestly not too much new with his view except that he brings in lots of various ideas of Planet X to make a non-cohesive argument and salts it generously with a whole lotta conspiracy. Graham requested the topic, and because I wanted to do something interesting, I explored a somewhat different way of introducing it with a suggestion from Mike Bohler.

Let me know what you think of the intro. And, does anyone recognize the music at the ~1-minute mark?

There’s also a New News segment, courtesy of Flip.

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